New Orleans Pelicans rookie sensation Zion Williamson was off to a terrific start to his NBA career before the 2019-20 season was halted in March by the coronavirus pandemic, and one member of the organization is expecting big things with the campaign scheduled to restart in July.
"He's going to shock some people," a Pelicans source told ESPN's Tim Bontemps and Andrew Lopez for an article posted Wednesday.
An Eastern Conference executive added the league is probably hoping the Pelicans are able to secure the No. 8 seed in the West to set up a likely matchup between Williamson and LeBron James' Los Angeles Lakers in the opening round of the playoffs.
"[Williamson is] a guy that drives eyeballs and attention," the exec told ESPN. "[The NBA] would love to have a Michael Jordan versus the '86 Celtics moment in the first round. If they could get their ideal world, that's what they would want."
The 19-year-old Duke product didn't make his NBA debut until Jan. 22, three months into the regular season, after undergoing knee surgery in October.
"Zion has been diligent about taking care of himself," said David Griffin, the Pelicans' executive vice president of basketball operations, per Bontemps and Lopez. "He's in a good space physically and mentally."
He quickly established himself as a high-impact budding superstar upon his return. He averaged 23.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists while shooting 58.9 percent from the field across 19 appearances. He ranked 13th in the NBA in Player Efficiency Rating, per ESPN.
In April, Williamson told TNT's Ernie Johnson (via CBS Sports' Jasmyn Wimbish) he was disappointed in the timing of the suspension of play because of COVID-19, but he was hopeful the additional downtime would ultimately be a positive.
"It sucks because I had just come back after sitting three, four months without playing basketball or playing in an NBA game," he said. "As soon as I felt like I was getting going, this happens. It sucks from that perspective. But I think it's a good thing because it gives me extra time to work on my knee and work on my body overall."
The Pelicans have the talent to become a dangerous team should they qualify for the postseason.
They'll enter the restart with a 28-36 record, 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the final playoff berth in the conference. It's a crowded race with the Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns also in the mix.
But New Orleans' core of Williamson, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday, paired with a supporting cast led by JJ Redick, Derrick Favors and Josh Hart, gives the team the skill and depth necessary to make some serious noise at the Disney World complex in Orlando, Florida.
"Those reps against the best players on a bigger stage will be meaningful for Zion certainly as a 19-year-old," Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin told ESPN. "I think it's important for those guys to play some meaningful-slash-playoff basketball."
Even if the Pelicans fall short during the whirlwind eight-game finish to the regular season and potential play-in tournament, the future is bright with Williamson leading the charge.